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Senator Duffy’s marijuana joke

Senator Mike Duffy has been in the news a bit lately regarding his housing expenses. Here is an exchange in the Senate from March 29, 2012. His contribution to the debate was to make jokes about marijuana:

Hon. Jim Munson: Honourable senators, my question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Some honourable senators, as I did, may have noted with special interest the report of leading Canadian public health physicians calling on this government to completely reconsider its drug policy.

Yesterday, the chief medical officers for the provinces of British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, along with the Co-director of the Urban Health Research Initiative at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS published an article in the peer-reviewed open access journal Open Medicine. The article makes a compelling case for the taxation and regulation of marijuana.

I think we all agree that addiction should be considered primarily a health issue and not one of criminal justice. Unlike Canada, U.S. states such as New York, Michigan, Massachusetts and Connecticut are repealing mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offences.

Given that 50 per cent of Canadians already support the legalization of marijuana or cannabis, I think it is time we start asking ourselves, what are we doing?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, I think it is clear. The government is very clear in its position on marijuana. We just passed a bill through this place, Bill C-10. I did note yesterday the leader of the third party in the other place asking a rather confusing question on this issue. We are well aware of the views of these gentlemen. The government’s position on legalizing marijuana is clear. We do not intend to change that position.

Senator Munson: That is too bad.

As the spokesperson — what is that, Senator Duffy?

Senator Duffy: You’re too old for that stuff.

Senator Munson: Well, there was a time.

Senator Duffy: I know.

Senator Munson: Let us not start talking about the National Press Club in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, Senator Duffy. That will be another story, but that will be in my book, so do not worry about that — no pictures, just a story.

Some Hon. Senators: Oh, oh!

Senator Munson: My supplementary question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate. A spokesperson for the Minister of Justice Rob Nicholson noted that the government through its law-enforcement-centred drug policy is not trying to punish addicts. While that may be true, it is clear this detracts from a health-based approach focused on harm reduction. Indeed, in 2001, during the last review of Canada’s drug strategy, the Auditor General estimated that of the $454 million spent annually on efforts to control illicit drugs, $426 million, or 93.8 per cent, was devoted to law enforcement.

Opponents of drug policy reform argue that shifting our focus from law enforcement will increase drug use, but this, however, is not the case. In fact, the World Health Organization has concluded that countries with stringent user-level illegal drug policies did not have lower levels of use than countries with liberal ones.

Let us look at Portugal, for example. It decriminalized all drug use in 2001, 11 years ago. It has seen reductions in problematic use, drug-related harms and criminal justice overcrowding, all the while maintaining rates of drug use among the lowest in the European Union.

With such evidence, why is the leader’s government pursuing drug policies that have already proven ineffective elsewhere?